September 2000

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A morning meditation on suffering

...through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God

The conversation between Diane and I  this morning, I believe, was revealing of our attitude toward being tucked away out here in Chageen for the past two-plus months. To set the scene, we are sitting on the verandah. The breakfast dishes have been cleared away, and Diane is reading a chapter about suffering from the book “Future Grace” by John Piper. It was a sobering chapter in which he reminds us that it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” and that suffering for Christ’s sake is a gracious gift (Phil1:29) Of course all this forces some self examination and the question must be asked “are we suffering for Christ’s sake, and if not why not?” It is at this point that we pick up our morning conversation, which took as its starting point the common assumption among our friends back in the States that we have sacrificed much to come to Chad (and hence, presumably suffer a lot).  

Diane - When it comes right down to it, we don’t suffer all that much.

Mark - Yeah, when you figure we’ve got a nice brick home, we’re healthy, we work in a comfortable office with modern computer equipment and electricity, we have good relations with our co-workers and neighbors, and pretty soon we’ll have running water [after Mark builds a water tower], and maybe even a satellite know I really don’t miss anything in the USA.

Diane - except maybe watching “Home Improvements,” going to Lowe’s (the hardware store), and Pizza Hut...?

Mark - And hot showers. But just about nothing else - besides, whatever we lack in creature comforts( and it’s not much) we more than make up for in quality of life - no rush hour commutes, no nagging boss, work that we love to do...

I think you get the drift, and we only scratched the surface of all that could be said in praise of the good life that God has given us here in Chageen. It is not a life of sacrifice, nor a life of suffering. To be sure, both of us have in years past lived through relatively difficult times - in a particularly distressing experience a few years ago Diane was accosted (and later released unharmed) by a group of soldiers. But on the whole, it’s a good life.

Indeed, life has taken on a kind of idyllic rhythm here - its beat is marked out every day by the village people who come to the door, verses translated, Bible studies prepared, sermons preached, new vocabulary learned, milestones of learning the language, trips to the market on Tuesdays, dinner with Chadian friends, radio standbys with the other missionaries, and improvements to the house. For me personally, this rhythm is an old, well-loved song which has only gotten better now that a smiling wife, delicious meals, and evenings without the computer have made four-part harmony out of the old tune.

Diane for her part is learning the tune fast, and learning to love it too. She is learning Kwong very quickly. Her days are filled with visits with the women (a ministry which I, for obvious reasons, never had), trips to their fields, as well as domesticating the household in general and the principal male in particular.

The day will come, as it always does, when the tune will switch to a minor key, when the harmony will seem to be lost in a cacophony of discouragements and setbacks. “Through many trials and tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Such is the good pleasure of the Father - the valley of the shadow of death is as much our lot as are the green pastures and the quiet waters. For the time being, we are enjoying our time in the green pastures of Chageen, and are not so presumptuous as to count such a blessing as if it were a right.

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